After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter. With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily. I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place. A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus. I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993. Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,
We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.
We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity. And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable. And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way. It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.
Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation. In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior. These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”
As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights. Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love. Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.” I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
David Benner in his book, Soulful Spirituality, identifies Hildegard von Bingen as one who described herself as a “feather on the breath of God.” I like that.
We are creatures made for both the earth and for heaven and so Benner writes, “Authentic spirituality leaves room for mystery and thus helps us preserve the lightness of being that is our heritage as creatures of dust and breath.”
After reading this section, I thought of the following passages that might be used to support these ideas. Other suggestions?
Abigail explains why David should not kill her fool of a husband, Nabal. “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.” (1 Samuel 25:29 ESV)
Jesus with Nicodemus. “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:5–8 NIV)
One of my favorite passages of the NT from Paul “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
Jacob wrestling with God. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”” (Genesis 32:24–28 ESV)
Paul in Athens “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:23–28 ESV)
Good words here from Eugene Peterson out of Eat this book: A conversation in the art of spiritual reading
I want to place personal experience under the authority of the Bible and not over it. I want to set the Bible before us as the text
by which we live our lives, this text that stands in such sturdy contrast to the potpourri of religious psychology, self-development, mystical experimentation, and devotional dilettantism that has come to characterize so much of what takes cover under the umbrella of “spirituality.”
Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.
NOTE: Following is an update on a previous post.
Does holiness provide refuge or bring condemnation? Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight says, “A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people.”
The world needs holy men and women because it needs people transformed by God.
Isaiah 32:2 says, “Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Thomas writes the following:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy women and men are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out–and they will have something to say. 48
Are you living without any margins in your life? No reserves? Right on the edge all the time? Richard Swenson provides the following prescription
He says Margin is the space that “exists between ourselves and our limits.” 42 “the space between our load and our limits something held in reserve for emergencies, the gap between rest and exhaustion.” 69
We need margin to live well, according to Swenson.
Swenson suggests we should live with margin in
What does it look like for you when you have margin in each of these? When you are marginless? Any other areas you would suggest in which we should have margins? Spiritually?
Next: why do we live marginlness lives?
“The busy life murders our hearts.” When we are too busy, “something dies in us.”
So says Mark Buchanan in his book, The Rest of God. Following are some excerpts from pages 46-47 in his book.
Too much work, the British used to say, makes Jack a dull boy. But it’s worse than that. It numbs Jack, parches Jack, hardens Jack. It kills his heart. When we get too busy, everything becomes either a trudge or a scramble, the doldrums or sheer mayhem. We get bored with the familiar, threatened by the unfamiliar. Our capacity for both steadfastness and adventure shrivel.
We just want to be left alone.
One measure for whether or not you’re rested enough–besides falling asleep in board meetings–is to ask yourself this: How much do I care about the things I care about? When we lose concern for people, . . when we cease to laugh . . .when we hear news of trouble . . .and our first thought is that we hope it isn’t gong to involve us–when we stop caring about the things we care about–that’s a sign we’re too busy. We have let ourselves be consumed by the things that feed the ego but starve the soul.
Busyness kills the heart.
And then the moment of reckoning comes–when we must meet the situation with genuine, heartfelt compassion, wisdom, courage and nothing’s there, only grim resignation and a dull resentment that we got dragged into this.
Busyness makes us stop caring about the things we care about. And not only that. Busyness robs us of knowing God the way we might.
Are you too busy? If so, what is your symptom?
According to Soren Kierkegaard, purity of heart is to will one thing–God. He closes his book, Purity of Heart, with a prayer. Here is part of that prayer:
Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee!
What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be,
but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee!
What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world,
but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee:
Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all!
So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will, purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing;
amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering, patience to will one thing .
Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion,
may Thou early, at the dawn of the day,
give to the young man the resolution to will one thing.
As the day wanes, may
Thou give give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution,
that the first may be like the last,
the last like the first in possession of a life that has willed only one thing.
One of my least favorite topics but maybe one of the most important to God–humility! Here are a few quotes from Andrew Murray’s book, Humility, courtesy of David Mays.
“Humility is the only soil in which the graces take root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure.” (17)
“Pride has its root and strength in a terrible spiritual power, outside of us as well as within us. We must confess it, deplore it, and be aware of its satanic origin.” (25)
“We must seek a humility that rests in nothing less than the end and death of self; that gives up all the honor of men, as Jesus did, to seek the honor that comes from God alone; that absolutely makes and considers itself nothing so that God may be all, so that the Lord alone may be exalted.” (27)
“Humility toward men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real.” (57)
“Virtually every Christian … fears and flees and seeks deliverance from all that can humble him.” “To humble himself has not yet become the spontaneous expression of a life and a nature that are essentially humble.” “Nothing but the presence of God can reveal and expel self.” “Our humiliations lead us, in the experience of the presence and power of Jesus to choose humility as our highest blessing.” (100)
“Why don’t you stop working on the computer, come downstairs, have dinner and talk to people around the table?” my wife gently urged me last week. What I did not know was that the kids were saving me a place at their table. You might guess what happened–I came down late, had to set up for the meeting and only began to eat after the kids were done and other tables were full. After going through burnout, you would think that I would have learned a thing or two but how easy it is to fall back into old patterns!!
First a few of my favorite quotes from Mays summary:
- Turning on your BlackBerry in the morning while having coffee can feel like someone has invaded your head. (103)
- One research group estimates the average office worker spent 41% of his day reading and responding to emails in 2009. (104) Your inbox can become a rolling to-do list. When you see twenty emails in your inbox it is clear that everyone is waiting for you. The faster you respond, the faster the replies come boomeranging back to you. (105) The work day becomes a multitasking exercise. Because facial expressions and body language are absent, the tone is often misunderstood.
- “We sneak a peek before going to work and clock in before going to bed. It’s our midnight snack, our reminder we are needed, the mother of all time killers.” (108)
- “Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.” (129)
- “E-mail has become a way to be reminded that we exist in a world overloaded with connections, that we are needed.” (138)
- “Reading and other meditative tasks are best performed in…a ‘state of flow,’ in which our focus narrows, the world seems to drop away, and we become less conscious of ourselves and more deeply immersed in ideas and language and complex thought. Many communication tools, however, actually inhibit this state.” (142)
- An e-mail to a friend may, if clever or embarrassing enough, be read by hundreds of thousands of people. An e-mail to a large group may not be read by any of them.” (147)
- Three trademark symptoms of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of individual accomplishment. Excessive work hours and expectations make work a major cause of health problems. (161) “As e-mail use grows, the stresses of working at this frantic pace will only compound, becoming an ever-stronger feedback loop.” (163)
- “What we are losing … is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading. Virtually all tests show a universal decline in reading ability and comprehension. Yet reading comprehension is one of the top skills in demand for well-paying jobs. (179)
- “Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do…. In short, we need to slow down.” (191) Emailing “is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world…. We need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.” (192)
Again, from Mays, “Some of the author’s recommendations:
- Send a lot less. Ask whether each message is essential.
- Don’t check it first thing in the morning or late at night. Reinforce the boundary between your work and your private life.
- Check it twice a day. Be fully present when you send messages rather than slipping quick answers in the midst of doing other things. Train others to expect you to respond at only two times during the day.
- Keep a written to-do list and include email as part of it.
- Use email well. Start with the subject line. Use it. Keep messages short. Separate questions so the recipient will see each one. If it’s complicated, call on the telephone.
- Read the entire email before responding. Otherwise you will miss significant information and get caught in a flurry of follow-up emails to get it straightened out.
- Do not debate complex or sensitive matters by email.
- And several others, such as, swivel away from your computer to work in a separate space to concentrate on a task and declare a media-free time every day.
Need to do a book review/summary of The Shallows that I finished last month but I have too many emails to which I need to respond!!
Which of these eight suggestions do you need to implement this week? Which of them seem impossible to you? What needs to change?
“Mentors are the editors of our lives,” said Alicia Hope Wagner in a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Which is why she says, “Books are your mentors. The more you read, the more prepared you will be to cultivate and achieve your vision.”
Since I am a consumer of books, not surprisingly, I can incessantly hint at books for people to read but I have also painfully discovered that not everyone is a reader. But everyone needs mentoring! Wagner furnishes a redemptive word for mentoring.
“Mentors are the editors of our lives. Without many of them, we will never have a polished vision that is able to change the world. Our visions will grow beyond our immediate circumstances. If we whole-heartily run our visions toward the end-zone, we will exhaust our own experience, knowledge and abilities. Therefore, we must surround ourselves with mentors to help us successfully, efficiently, and confidently bring our visions to fruition.”
Authors that have been mentors to me in recent years: Gary Thomas, David Benner, John Ortberg, Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard–just to name a few.
Who are the authors and books that have mentored you in the past year?
and all that it contains
and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1 NET)
If I really believed this verse, then like Mother Teresa, I would say, “I do not refuse him anything.” For Teresa, there could be no slight refusal to do his will. She was captivated and controlled by the words of Jesus, “Not my will but your will be done.” She would write,
Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God has given Himself to us. If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself. I for God and God for me. I live for God and give up my own self, and in this way induce God to live for me.
I disagree that I have to induce God to live for me but her other words are powerful in the above quote. In words foreign to most of us, she would write, “to possess God we must allow Him to possess our soul.” Indeed her life’s labors in the streets of Calcutta would demonstrate that God fully possessed her.
How could she do this? Brian Kolodiejchuk, co-author together with Mother Teresa in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light wrote,
Only this certainty that she was loved unconditionally could have given her enough confidence to abandon herself to God so completely and without reserve.
It was in giving Jesus whatever He asked that she found her deepest and lasting joy; in giving Him joy she found her own joy.
What is even more impressive about Teresa’s giving of all to God was the absence of any personal consolations from God for most of her life. More about this to follow as I move my way through the book. Clearly, for Teresa, it was not about her, not about feeling good or fulfilled. I have a lot to learn from this beloved saint.
It is no coincidence I am sure that my other passage I read yesterday was in 1 Cor 9:15-23 where Paul concludes in v19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
Decided on Saturday I would read Larry James’ Fixing Hell. James was a Colonel in the Army who was a big part of the clean up of the U.S. facilities at Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Read about this book in a newsletter by Christian Psychologist, Gary Collins. Does not answer all the questions about what went on but at least makes me confident that we are asking some of the right questions now. Very interesting reflections on how to be a doctor and a soldier at the same time–James had decided he would have been able to shoot and kill someone had he been threatened but I think he doesn’t think doctors should be put into that situation. James talked to Dr. Philip Zambardo who was part of the Stanford prison experiment in 1971 which directly informs the solutions James takes. One takeaway for me relates to my dissertation project–I need objective outsiders monitoring things and checking up on my health as well as the health of the group. Not sure how to do that?
Few weeks ago, I picked up Dean Koontz Relentless in the library and read it through quickly. In Relentless, an author flees a literary critic who is out to kill him and his family. When the critic starts out with a bad review, that is only the beginning for his latest victim.
Third book is a 50 page book by Kent Humphreys called Shepherding Horses: Understanding God’s Plan for Transforming Leaders that someone gave to me in February. Humphreys says not everyone in our churches are sheep and want to follow. Some are horses and they require unique strategies. Horses are self-sufficient, affected by a pagan workplace, are strong and fearless in battle, create false hopes and represent man’s effort instead of God’s provision. When trained in the way of Jesus, they can be effective leaders.
What are the psychological conditions conducive to evil? That was the goal for Robert Jay Lifton as he wrote The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide which I should finish reading later tonight. Lifton found there are no easy answers as one physician survivor stated,
“The professor would like to understand what is not understandable. We ourselves who were there, and who have always asked ourselves the question and will ask it until the end of our lives, we will never understand it , because it cannot be understood.”
Lifton’s book focuses on a particular part of the “final solution,” one of the many terms the Nazis used to describe their attempted genocide of the Jews. He writes about the role the German medical profession played in the selection, technology and disposal of the millions killed during WW II. For most of his 500+ pages, he focuses on the events in Auschwitz, a place in which at the height of their “efficiency,” 24,000 people in one twenty-four hour period were killed and then burned or otherwise disposed. For the Nazis, the Jews were a “life unworthy of life” or a disease that must be eradicated and so they attempted to justify their attempt to “heal” the nation. As Lifton says, “Genocide is a response to collective fear of pollution and defilement” (481). “The perpetrator of genocide kills to cure himself as well as his people” (487).
This is a long and tough read and I bought it because one of my profs had mentioned it a number of years ago as a book worth reading. Lifton comes to a similar conclusion as does Roy F. Baumeister, in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty who wrote about the myth of pure evil (see my post on this). “No individual self is inherently evil, murderous, genocidal. Yet under certain conditions virtually any self is capable of becoming all of these” 497).
On a related note, my wife sent me a link to an article about why our response to hundreds of thousands of people dying is not significantly greater than our response to one person dying or in the article’s case, the life of one dog. I had never heard the story of Hokget, the dog stranded on an abandoned freighter. Worth a read!
But the real point is why don’t we care more? According to research cited in the article, our brains don’t have the capacity for dealing with the death of so many. In fact, Shankar Vedantam concludes, “We are best able to respond when we are focused on a single victim.” Maybe this provides some explanation why we cannot get our minds around the 6 million+ Jews that were killed during WW II. But, that does not make the facts any less true. If you are in any doubt, check out The Nazi Doctors.
From The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak, a summary of their lessons. A small book worth reading.
- Know the condition of your flock
- Discover the shape of your sheep
- Help your sheep identify with you
- Make your pasture a safe place
- The staff of direction
- The rod of correction
- The Heart of the shepherd
To be honest, I picked up The Process of Forgiveness by William Menninger because his name sounded familiar and on the back cover was written, “Going beyond Lewis Smede’s classic Forgive and Forget” Now I am not sure he is beyond Smedes who is one of my favorites on this type of book but it was not a bad read.
A couple of useful things. Useful chapters on the “Stages of Forgiveness.” Since I have studied a bit about the enneagram, his nine chapters on the challenges of forgiveness for each of the nine enneagram types was unique. Ends with chapters on lectio divina, compassionate meditation, centering meditation and focusing.
Two more books gone from my “to read” list, these regarding life in the Philippines which may not be of interest to as many of you.
Surgeons Do Not Cry by Ting Tiongco
Well-written glimpses of life about the life of a doctor and his patients at the massive public facility in Manila called the Philippine General Hospital. Overwhelming needs, stories that will make you angry and ones that make you proud to be part of the Philippines. Locally printed only
Fun book to read since I knew Martin and many of the characters about which he wrote. Wish I had gotten to know him before he and his family left the field. At times he describes so well what life is like here and I wish I could give that section to my friends so they could understand! In the midst of amusing stories about life on the island of Mindoro, he intersperses a few critiques about Filipino and missionary culture. Two quotesL “But the one who was truly responsible for my deteriorating health was myself; the shadow of guilt of not doing enough; the fear of letting people down was always driving me.” 201 “In situations where most individuals are highly motivated and committed to the task, team leaders really need to lead by example by taking adequate rest, giving the right to those under them to similarly follow suit.” 207
Slum as a way of life by F. Landa Jocano
Sadly, I doubt if I will finish this fascinating study about life in a Manila slum during the 70s, written by an anthropologist. Amazingly many things don’t appear to have changed. Locally printed
Two books that may be of interest are now off of my bedside table. Wait, I don’t have a bedside table anymore, it is packed!
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Maybe it was the title that made me wanted to read this book? Story of her entry and then later departure into the ministry as pastor in the Episcopal church. Takeaways for me: Enjoy the people you serve, let them get to know you as a person, don’t miss life around you. Just gave my copy away yesterday.
The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak
Short (123 pp) but invaluable “7 secrets to managing productive people.” Plan to write a separate blog post on this one but it may not get done before we move. Need to spend some more time reflecting here. First principle: Know the Condition of Your Flock.
What does it mean to be a Christian writer of fiction? That all your characters live out a high level of morality? If so, then according to L. B. Graham, we might be equating Christianity with moralism or good behavior. Not that the two are unrelated but they are certainly not equal. Graham suggests three ways we could have a more biblical view of morality and fiction.
“First, we should remember that we do live in a moral universe and attempts to portray immoral behavior as free from consequence cuts against the grain of reality.”
“Second, we should remember that portrayals of characters with ‘good morals’ doesn’t mean a book is Christian.”
“Third, the portrayal of sin in realistic terms, and even the attribution of sinful struggles and moral failures to key characters, even good ones, doesn’t necessarily prove the author condones such behavior.”
“At the end of the day, I don’t see many Christian fiction writers leaving much doubt that they believe God’s standards for human behavior are both good and right. What I do see is a certain level of discomfort if characters portrayed in some way as “good” are given significant moral struggles or weaknesses. I hope this will change and that audiences and authors alike will embrace a redemptive rather than a moralistic view of stories – both their own and the one’s they read.”
“Evil exists primarily in the eyes of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim,” says Roy F. Baumeister in his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. He goes on to say that we must have victims if we are to have evil and that victims are the first ones to spot evil. However, in this book he suggests that if we are to truly understand evil, the perception of the perpetrators should be considered. Thus, he tries to dispassionately look at evil largely from the perspective of the perpetrators of evil in order to understand it. Although there are a few individuals who enjoy evil, Baumeister says the “myth of pure evil,” is largely borne on the wings of movies and tv and has skewed our understanding of evil.
I have had this book on my bookshelf to read a few years but picked it up after trying unsuccessfully to understand the recent rescue of Jaycee Dugard who had been held captive for 18 years by Philip Garrido and his wife.
Baumeister does not deny evil at all. But, he says there are four major causes of evil. First–greed, lust, ambition: evil as a means to an end; second–evil coming out of etotism and revenge; third–evil arising out of idealism; fourth is the pursuit of sadistic pleasure.
Some interesting points
- “Villains, bullies, criminals, killers and other evildoers have high self-esteem. . . Violence results when a person’s favorable image of self is questioned or impugned by someone else.” 376
- “Noble ends are often seen as justifying violent means. . . When the perpetrators are driven by idealism, the victims do not get much mercy.” 377
- “Most observations of killers, torturers, rapists, and similar evildoers indicate that only about 5 or 6 percent of perpetrators actually get enjoyment out of inflicting harm. 377
- “Evil or violent tendencies are met with strong restraining forces, most of which can be conveniently categorized as self-control. . . The immediate, proximal cause of violence is the collapse of these inner restraining forces.” 263
- “Severe violence is typically the product of a process of escalation. . . Once evil gains a foothold, it seems very capable of growing and flourishing.” 283
- Baumeister has a very interesting discussion on the controversial topic of “desensitization”, which he says may lead to the escalation of aggression.” 285 ff
- Evil is the inflicting of harm or suffering on other human beings. Guilt is the distress that comes from hurting other human beings. Guild is thus an inherent, perennial problem for evildoers. . . must find some way to free themselves from of guilt, lest they end up feeling bad. Most people are not immune to guilt. 305ff
- Perpetrators of evil rely upon the inaction of the innocent by-standers. 342-370
In his conclusion, Baumeister offers the following compelling words.
Understanding how people commit evil acts is one important key to appreciating the human condition, and it may even hold some helpful clues on how to control human violence. 386
He says understanding is not enough–action must also be taken.
I also hope that the reader will make the effort to resume a moral condemnation of these terrible acts. To do so requires returning to consider the victim’s perspective. The victim’s perspective had to be surpressed for the sake of this book because it hampers understanding of the perpetrator. But the victim’s pespective is essential for making a moral judgment on the perpetrator. It is a mistake to let moral condemnation interfer with trying to understand–but it would be a bigger mistake to let that understanding, once it has been attained, interfere with moral condemnation. 387